The Definitive Guide to Virtual Events
It wasn’t long in the United States when Trump announced the travel ban to and from Europe that all in-person events started canceling and with-in two weeks everything felt like it shut down. As the dust is settling from the Covid-19 fallout the small business networking sector took a huge hit. Hopefully, through careful planning and pivots, those entrepreneurs will be able to find ways to network and continue to grow their businesses as the United States reopens. As everything moves to Virtual Events, it is essential to know all the ins and outs of running them, after running more than a giant handful of virtual events myself this guide is here to help you make your next event run smoothly and have the best impact it can have.
This Guide is split into three sections:
- Virtual Events Overview
- Virtual Event Ideas
- Virtual Events Step by Step
So Without any more further ado;
What is needed to run Virtual Events:
First off, let’s quickly name some of the pieces we are going to play with to create a Virtual Event. This guide will be using and teaching Zoom as our chosen Virtual Event platform. The reason for this is Zoom is built for all the use cases we need to run an event. It’s easy to set up and use, you can create or schedule an event and share out the link to your attendees and run either a webinar type of event, networking events and a mixture with some of the ideas we are going to layout in this guide. Note: Zoom is currently the only platform with breakout rooms as a feature. Something that is very valuable for groups who would like to scale to larger attendee counts.
Other tools you will need to run virtual events include email platforms like Mailchimp, RSVP platforms like Networkr or Eventbrite, and of course social platforms like Facebook and Linkedin to get the word out.
Running Different Types of Virtual Events
These events are centered and focused on providing valuable information to all the attendees. Usually done by one individual or a collaborative group. These events will most of the time not be interactive with the attendees; Some will take questions via chat and other forms. But mostly a webinar event will have a presenter sharing their screen with everyone else being able to participate.
Some events will have several businesses give overviews or introductions to how they solve certain problems, pitching events work this way as well. Having someone run Zoom and other behind the scenes technology can go a long way in making the event run smoothly. You want to make sure that between transitions of presenters runs smooth and that you don’t have technical difficulties.
Group Discussion Networking Events
These events go around the room giving everyone equal or as close to equal time as possible with a 30 second or 60-second commercial. These events work great for 10-40 attendees. These events require more of an event moderator to help push and run things to make sure everyone has a turn and to keep everyone with-in timing limits.
These events can get out of control quickly. Possibly making a mandatory mute of all attendees except who is talking could help with timing. You want to be sure to treat all Zoom calls as a phone call. If it’s your turn to talk on a call and you get interrupted with a question you weren’t ready for, it can quickly turn into a game of cat and mouse as most of the time the presenter didn’t hear the question and asks for a repeat which spends more time or possibly wastes the time of the person presenting. Instruct attendees to use chat to ask questions and use mute so you allow everyone to have their time. A great time for followup questions would be in an open group discussion towards the end of the event if time allows for it.
Zoom Break Out Events
This feature is unique to Zoom. It’s free you just need to go into your Zoom account and turn on the feature, you’ll learn more about that during the step by step section of this guide. There are three ways to use this feature when running an event.
- Open Breakout Rooms – Allows attendees to chose what breakout room to join. Once breakouts are open Attendees will be able to pull up the list of open rooms and select what room they want to go into. This works great for events with breakout sessions with a presenter in them.
- Auto Assigned Room – Zoom has a feature where you can select how many rooms you want and Zoom with auto-fill each one randomly until each room has an even amount of attendees. This is a random process and could over time sit people in the same room with people they just met during a multi-round event. If you don’t care who your attendees meet during breakouts this is a great way to use the feature quickly.
- Manuel Assigned Rooms – This is our preferred way of networking. And is completely scalable for a large attendee size virtual events. But most importantly we use this feature with Networkr to help us know what rooms to put people into. Manuel assigned rooms to allow you to select who you want in each room with options to push everyone into breakouts and bring them back to the main room quickly and easily.
This event type is great if you want smaller groups in your breakouts.
When Running Virtual Events
Virtual networking is what is trending right now for small businesses to grow and succeed, but it isn’t all that. There was a study on how long does it take to create friendships (Study) It says that casual friendships emerge around 30 hr, followed by friendships around 50 hr. Good friendships begin to emerge after 140 hr. Best friendships do not emerge until after 300 hr of time spent. How long does that take during a video call versus in person? It’s doable but not the same as in-person connecting.
Once we put this knowledge together with the facts that we all do business with those we know and trust, we can morph the significance of this to mean we need to help attendees grow their relationships to a trusting level as best as possible. The more people you get to know the more opportunities you will have if not due to anything else it’s due to the law of averages.
To help attendees meet new people during your event is important, but how do you gauge the level of involvement or know if they are really meeting new people? Networkr sorts how well you know someone into the 5 levels of relationship that describes how well you know someone. Level 0 is someone you haven’t met, level 1 is someone you met, level 2 is someone you know, level 3 is someone you know and trust, and level 4 is a raving fan. The more you get to know someone the higher the level you know them. This is different depending on who individuals are.
Networkr can be used to help sort attendees. It sorts to help them meet level zeros and when they are in the same room or table it turns them to a level 1 ensuring they’ll meet new people each round using it’s algorithm.
Most of the time opportunities are generated because someone knows someone who needs and wants the services of someone else and makes that connection. Running networking events then should be all about helping the attendees meet and create new relationships with the other attendees.
Because virtual events remove 3 senses that humans rely on when interacting with the world around them it is important to allow for more connection via virtual events than you would during normal in-person events. Make sure to take this into consideration. Virtual networking is just conference calling with video. People don’t have the ability to easily stick around and network after an event. So it’s important to ask the question. How long are you giving your attendees to talk to each other? If you aren’t giving them enough time to build the relationship needed to do business they may not ever have the time to reconnect.
It’s hard and rare for attendees to stick around a zoom call just to network. Many lost opportunities happen because attendees don’t have the ability to connect after the meeting. Using an app like Networkr works well in connecting attendees without being intrusive to the individual. Blasting everyone with their social media links can be seen as intrusive to privacy. Tho we are all molding to social media as more of a business acceptable place to connect with both friends and professional friends, there is still an unspoken courtesy around social media accounts and friending those you know versus those you just met. When you help your attendees connect you may want to look into a safe way for them to get each other’s info to create opportunities and allow them to control their own way of connecting. In Networkr all users use our levels of relationships to control who has access to their personal and social information safely.
Recommended Networking Event Setups
All Virtual Events have similar setups: These steps will be explained in more detail later.
- Setup Video Platform – Make sure recommended settings are set to run your event safely.
- Create The Event – put it on platforms such as Networkr, Facebook, Linkedin, Eventbrite, Meetup, etc.
- Create a Zoom Lander – A page explaining the rules of the event with the Zoom link, or Zoom Waiting Room.
- Event Checkin – A time period of around 15 mins before the event to 10 mins into the event. It’s best practice to have a cut off time for check-in.
- Event Introduction – If you think you have 10 mins to be able to do this, the truth is, you don’t. Your introduction and explanation of the rules need to be no more than 3-5 mins. You will lose half your audience if you drag this out unless you’re funny, and truth be told if you’re not a full-time stand-up comedian… Well… It’s probably a good idea to just keep it short. The attendee experience will improve greatly if you can move things along in 3 min intervals to not overdo it. The average human attention spans are shorter with technology today than ever before, now competing with the 9-second attention spans of that of a goldfish. Keep It Stupid Simple!
- Presentation/Networking Time – However you decide to break out your presentations or networking time, this phase is done by either the presenter or the attendees. There are some ideas before to fill this time up.
- Closing of the event – If your event doesn’t end in breakouts having everyone come back into an open room discussion is a great way to end and bring in more connections between people in sparking people wanting to follow up outside of the event.
- The Classic Webinar | 100’s-1000’s People | 1-3 Hours
It’s all in the name, Classic webinars are a great way to build value in presenting valuable information that is scalable. Depending on the size of the crowd and how you connect them(ex. Slack, Networkr, Teams) it’s a great way to bring a bunch of people together and connect over a common shared topic to create new connections and opportunities.
- The Open Forum | 100’s-1,000’s People | 1-3 Hours
Usually a discussion between a small group of people in front of a larger group of people that are able to submit questions. Live Streams are often done this way. Open Forums may not have much networking going on during the stream, but hopefully, they’re using tools to help connect their attendees and build more value to their events.
- The Brady Bunch | 10 – 50 People | 1 Hour
The Brady bunch is nothing more than a big open discussion with each other. Although we are more likely to talk to family in this style, having a networking group works similarly and helps build bonds. Tho if you’re on the higher side of 50 people it won’t be the best experience with one person talking at a time.
- The Virtual Elevator | 10 – 50 People | 1 Hour
Giving everyone a period of 30-60 seconds to explain who they are, what their business does, and what needs they may have. This is an effective way of creating opportunities between attendees as it gives everyone the most coverage of being heard by someone who can help them. Make sure to help the attendees connect outside of the event so they can take advantage of the people they heard from.
- The Relationship Builder Single Event | 10 People max | 45 Minutes – 1.5 Hours
A small group discussion that allows for up to 3-15 mins per person to talk about themselves and their possible needs open to a group discussion. The event is focused on helping each other overcome obstacles that we’re all facing.
- The Relationship Builder Break out | 10’s – 1,000’s People | 45 Minutes – 1.5 Hours
Using Zoom breakout rooms you can place 4-8 people into each room to do a relationship-building exercise. You can use Networkr to help setup the breakouts so that everyone is meeting new people in each room using Networkr’s Zoom Landers.
- 2 – Round Introduction Mixer | 10’s – 1,000’s People | 1 Hour
Using Networkr you break out everyone into rooms of 4-5 people each and give each person 3 mins to tell who they are, what they do, and a story about themselves. Once everyone had a chance to present you pull them back into the main room on Zoom and use Networkr to create the 2nd round and quickly put everyone back into break out rooms with new people to repeat the process.
- Virtual Speed Networking | 10’s – 1,000’s People | 1-2 Hours
Using Zoom breakout rooms, you can break out everyone into rooms of 4-5 people and give everyone 30-60 seconds each to talk about who they are, what they do, and any needs they have. Once the rounds are done you can pull them back to the main room and break them back out in multiple rounds using the Networkr algorithm to ensure everyone meets new people during the speed networking.
Crazy Ideas That Just Might Work
- The Multi-Day Virtual Conference | 100’s – 1,000’s | 1-5 Days
A little overkill to expect that people will be at their computers all day being apart of every aspect of a virtual event. However, if there are multiple breakouts sessions that individual groups find valuable there should be a steady stream of attendees. Unique and valuable content is what makes these events valuable. Adding a mixture of networking breakouts isn’t a bad idea either.
- Once a Week Event | 10’s – 100’s | 1 Hour
Having an event each week at a pre-set time works great for those who put it on their calendar as a recurring event to attend each week. We will see a rise in events that happen on a weekly bases during the COVID time period. This is great as we are already cutting off 3 senses switching to virtual. Meeting more often will help in pushing people into those higher levels of relationship where business and opportunities are created.
- BE PREPARED! Know how to use your presenting software
You need to be able to protect yourself in the case of Chat Bombing, or Zoom hijacking. Learning how to use it during the event is a bad idea. (recently we were apart of an event that had chat bombing with copy/paste messages over and over and the presenter wasn’t able to figure out how to kick that user out during the live presentation. Wasted around 5-10 mins just talking about the fact he didn’t know how to use the software, LIVE!!! Know your stuff!)
- Internet Speed
Make sure you have decent enough speed to run the event without tons of lag or cut-outs.
- Getting a group photo
Getting your virtual audience to all wave their hand at the same time for a screenshot picture is tricky, but it is worth doing if you can make it happen.
- Have an Intro Video
When your attendees are coming in. Play a video with a count down if you can to entertain them so that you don’t have several minutes of awkward silence at the beginning of your event. If you don’t have a video then be prepared to try and strike up a conversation or present something that doesn’t have anything to do with the event, once the event start you should then tell the rules. Avoid explaining things over and over because someone new just joined.
- Make Video Required
We are already cutting out so much by moving to virtual, if you remove the video from the equation then it’s nothing more than a conference call. We recommend that to get the most out of today’s tools to require cameras turned on as part of networking. We’ve seen users with cameras turned off stay and watch until it’s their turn to network and then leave the event, talk about creepy!! It’s best to just enforce a rule that in order to network they need a camera.
- No Late Comers
We also recommend cutting off the check-in time of the virtual event. Nothing is worse than having someone join 30 mins in and ask “What are we all doing?” than to have the host pause and take time to explain the 5 min version of what we are doing in a condensed 60-second version to catch the newcomer up so they can participate. It’s best to set a cut off time for check-ins and stick with it and help enforce your attendees to show up on time to be apart of the event.
- Moderators in breakouts
It helps if you have moderators or someone that is assigned to keep time in the breakouts. It isn’t completely needed as you can send out messages in Zoom to help each room keep their time. But it is worth having someone make sure that everyone stays in their time limit. We’ve seen people talk while looking away from their computer completely missing the “Move to the next person” messages. Having a moderator is crazy and requires a little more work. But the results will be a great experience for all those who attend. And as always, you can use the moderator feature with-in Networkr so they stay in the break out rooms they were assigned between networking rounds.
- Two People make events run smooth
It’s best to have a presenter and a technical person team up running the event. Having the presenter run the event can create a bad experience as they will most likely have to pause and break to get things moved to the next stage. Having two people will allow someone to make sure the breakouts are ready to go while the other person is explaining the rules to the event.
How to Setup and use Zoom
It’s important to make sure your settings are correct so you don’t get hijacked or Zoom bombed. Here are some recommended settings to use in Zoom:
Running Zoom Breakout Events
Here is a step by step guide on how to use Zoom breakouts for your next event.
- Make sure to remind your attendees to rename themselves to their real names.
- It’s easier to run events if you can have someone focused on presenting while someone else is doing the zoom administration.
- Hosts are the only ones allowed to manage breakouts. So make the presenter the co-host and the administrator the host.
- Breakouts can also be open without assignments and attendees will be able to choose what room they would like to enter for open room formats.
Using Networkr for Connecting
If you haven’t heard about Networkr before it’s probably best to watch this intro video on how to use it for groups:
Networkr Check-in Options:
- You can Manually Check Your Attendees in – Inside the app you can type in your attendee’s information to get them assigned a breakout room. It can be done before the event with CSV as well as during the event with new guests attending.
- Use Our Self Check-in Text Codes on Your Zoom Lander – Creating the check-in from our Table Placement Generator and then crop out the text code in use for websites or landing pages works great:
- Use the New Networkr’s Checkin Widget – Embed this widget on your Zoom lander or use it as the lander itself and attendees will be able to enter their phone to self-check-in, and if they don’t have an account yet it will ask for their name and info before it gives them a zoom link to join the event.
Here is what the widget looks like:
Make Sure to take advantage of Networkr’s New Virtual Features:
Put Your Online Location and Link in Networkr and it will help you connect all your attendees.
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